Madalyn Iadanza, 27, of Nesconset, has been cancer free for two...

Madalyn Iadanza, 27, of Nesconset, has been cancer free for two years. At age 24, she was treated for a rare type of bone cancer at R.J. Zuckerberg Cancer Hospital in New Hyde Park. Credit: Madalyn Iadanza

The rate of early onset cancers among Americans under the age of 50 "increased substantially" between 2010 and 2019, most notably among women, Asians and Hispanics, according to a nationwide report released Wednesday.

The report by nearly two dozen doctors and research scientists found that cancer, once considered a disease plaguing predominantly older individuals, is now afflicting a higher percentage of Americans under 50. 

Madalyn Iadanza, an elementary school social worker from Nesconset, was diagnosed with a rare type of bone cancer in 2020 at the age of 24. Iadanza, now 27, said she was "shocked" by the news.

"I was trying to start my life. Trying to start my career," said Iadanza, who was treated at R.J. Zuckerberg Cancer Hospital in New Hyde Park and has been cancer free for two years. "Here I am telling a brand-new job that I have to now take a multiple-months leave of absence. And my diagnosis was particularly confusing because of my age. I was at the end of the pediatric age range, but at the very beginning of an adult age range. And it was also alarming. I was like, 'Why is this happening now?'  "

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The rate of early onset cancers among Americans under 50 increased between 2010 and 2019, according to a study published Wednesday by nearly two dozen doctors and research scientists.
  • The report found an increase in cancer rates among women, Hispanics and Asians or Pacific Islanders, along with a reduction in early onset cancers among men, whites and Blacks.
  • While breast cancer had the highest number of early onset cases in 2019, gastrointestinal cancers were the fastest-growing category during the past decade, specifically in the colon, rectum, stomach and pancreas.

While breast cancer and thyroid cancers had the highest number of early onset cases in 2019, gastrointestinal cancers were the fastest-growing category during the past decade, followed by cancers of the urinary system and the female reproductive system, according to the report, which was published on the JAMA Network, an open-access medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

Among early onset gastrointestinal cancers, the most common types were in the colon, rectum, stomach and pancreas, the data showed.

Dr. Richard Whelan, chief of colorectal surgery for the Northwell Health system and the Northwell Cancer Institute, said he'd seen an uptick in younger cancer patients in recent years.

"Not a month goes by that we don't see a patient or two who's really young without a family history of colon cancer," Whelan said. " … The majority of patients who are younger and who get colon or colorectal cancer are without family history and without any known genetic risk for that."

But Whelan warned the study, which analyzed data from 17 National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results registries from 2010 through 2019, should be looked at with a cautious eye.

For example, he noted it's possible that populations of certain age, racial and gender groups could have increased or decreased during the decade in those 17 regions, potentially leading to data changes. The report, he said, also examined a host of different cancers, reducing the potential patient size in each subgroup.

"They're drawing attention to an important problem," he said. " … But I would caution that looking at this many cancers, with the imperfect methods that are available to us, is difficult to do … and that we really can't draw firm conclusions from this."

The study found that 56,468 early onset cancers were diagnosed in the United States in 2019 in the 17 studied regions, a 0.74% increase from 2010. The largest increase was among Americans ages 30-39, researchers discovered. The rate of cancers among individuals 50 and older slightly decreased during that period, the report found.

Meanwhile, the incidence of early onset cancers among women went up by 4.35% over the past decade; by 27.6% for Hispanics; 32.2% among Asians or Pacific Islanders, and 2.2% for American Indians or Alaska Natives, the data showed. The rate among all men declined by almost 5%, while early onset cancer rates declined for Blacks by 4.6% and 12.2% for whites, investigators found.

While cancers of the appendix, bile duct and uterus saw major increases among individuals under the age of 50, researchers found significant reductions in the rate of mouth and prostate cancers, along with acute monocytic leukemia.

"The increase in early onset cancers is likely associated with the increasing incidence of obesity as well as changes in environmental exposures, such as smoke and gasoline, sleep patterns, physical activity, microbiota, and transient exposure to carcinogenic compounds," the authors wrote.

Iadanza, meanwhile, has taken an optimistic approach to her bout with cancer and said there are advantages to being diagnosed when young.

"As we're finding patients who are younger and who are getting these diagnoses," she said, "that means they have a life ahead of them and that they need to remain healthy."

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